Bulls guard Alex Caruso still dealing with back issues
Caruso’s back is better than it was at the end of the regular season, but he likely won’t be 100% at any point in this first-round playoff series.
MILWAUKEE — Bulls guard Alex Caruso won’t be fully healthy for the first-round playoff series against the Bucks. Coach Billy Donovan said it, and it was apparent Sunday in Game 1.
But the Bulls have little choice but to take the approach that Caruso will give them everything he has each game. That’s why Donovan and the medical staff had him on a minutes watch, even though he began the series as a starter.
‘‘He’s felt the best I think he has felt,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘Is he 100%? No, but he’s a lot better than he was those games before he sat out.
‘‘I do think with Alex [that minutes restrictions are] going to be somewhat important. I think if you start pushing him with his back up into the high 30s, I don’t think that would be really, really wise. You want to see how he’s feeling in the game.
‘‘He kind of throws his body in there and plays incredibly hard and physical, so we’ll have to see how he responds. I do think, from a medical standpoint of where he’s at physically, there has been some talk about managing him and his minutes.’’
Caruso has been dealing with back issues for weeks. And while his defense has been serviceable, the injury seems to be bothering him offensively — more specifically, his long-range shooting.
Caruso was a 35% three-point shooter before the All-Star break, but he shot only 2-for-15 from behind the arc in his final five regular-season games.
In the first half Sunday, Caruso was given three wide-open looks from three-point range and missed all three. He finished 1-for-5 from there.
That’s a definite concern, especially if the Bucks are going to continue double-teaming guard Zach LaVine and forward DeMar DeRozan and leaving Caruso wide-open on the perimeter.
What no longer seemed to be a concern, however, was the idea there was still bad blood between Caruso and Bucks guard Grayson Allen. It was Allen who disrupted Caruso’s season with a flagrant foul Jan. 21 that resulted in a fractured wrist and cost Caruso a couple of months.
Caruso called it a non-issue in March, but swingman Derrick Jones Jr. and center Nikola Vucevic tried to exact some revenge on Allen in regular-season games, with both going near Allen’s head on fouls.
Donovan said he hadn’t even heard a mention of it leading up to the playoff series.
‘‘After it happened, I don’t think it was ever really an issue or it was brought back up with our team,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘These guys are pros. It’s over and done with; it’s been addressed.
‘‘Maybe there was a little bit more of a storyline around the fact once we got ready to play them again after Alex had gotten hurt. But I have not heard anything at all or any talk like that. I think our guys realize that we’re playing against an outstanding team that’s won a world championship [and] is very seasoned [and] battle-tested. We’ve got our hands full just playing basketball.’’
Leading into the series, the Bulls announced assistants Chris Fleming and Damian Cotter would miss Game 1 after testing positive for the coronavirus and going into the NBA’s health-and-safety protocols.
Donovan had no update about their return, but he did say they were working over Zoom throughout the week.
‘‘We’ve kind of all gone through it, so everybody is still engaged, doing their job and trying to help where they can,’’ Donovan said.